Talking With: Rob Auton
by Tom Stockley
Rob Auton is set to embark on his biggest nationwide tour with the second-best reviewed show out of over 1800 Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy productions (by the British Comedy Guide), The Talk Show. From 8th February 2019, Rob will play 32 dates at venues spanning the UK, culminating with a run at the Soho Theatre in May. Putting his own familiarity of isolation as a touring comedian under the microscope, experiences including encounters with Jehovah’s witnesses, the post office and time on his own at the kitchen table are documented as Rob explores how time on his own has changed the way he talks.
After almost accidentally interviewing another nice Northern man (Rob’s agent), the voice of one of Britain’s most talked about poets comes through the tinny speakers of my 2002 Nokia.
Generously squeezing in 10 minutes for this interview before an appearance on BBC Midlands, We chatted about the meaning of poetry, Tony Benn and Manuka honey – all laced with Rob Auton’s trademark ramblings and thoughtful musings on the world around him.
Tom Stockley: Hi Rob. I’m typing this as we speak. What’s your favourite font?
Rob Auton: It’s got to be Arial. Bit boring, but a classic. What’s yours?
TS: WingDings, definitely
RA: You’re just saying that so you can say the word WingDings. It’s a good word isn’t it?
TS: The BBC once described you as a ‘former paintbrush salesman’. You’ve also been variously described as a poet, comedian, philosopher, borderline autistic, sad, Brian Cox and extravagantly bearded. How would you describe yourself?
RA: Someone also described me as gaunt and deliberate…
TS: People often describe me as short and vague, which is the opposite of that in a way
RA: … I like to think I’m just someone trying to have a go while I still can
TS: What’s going to happen to you?
RA: Well I’ll die, eventually. I don’t want to be like Prince Phillip, still driving around at 90. I guess he’s been well fed though. But yeah – just having a go and hoping people enjoy it.
TS: You work across lots of platforms and job titles. Do you introduce yourself as different things to different people? And do people, or you, ever get confused about what you ‘do’?
RA: I always say that I’m a writer who gigs a lot. I never introduce myself as Rob Auton the comedian, or Rob Auton the spoken word poet. Kate Tempest once said that you have to earn titles like that from an audience, you can’t just give them to yourself. I don’t think you even have to perform to be a poet, you can just write things down and see where they go.
TS: Do your paintings and illustrations relate quite closely to your performances, or are they two separate things?
RA: They definitely come from the same place – something inside of me that just has to get out. But they’re different urges. It’s all about urges really – I might have a paintbrush in my hands at the time, or it might be a pen and paper but either way I have to get the ideas down. I don’t think it matters how you do it.
TS: What about topiary, or amateur paleontology?
RA: Yeah, those could work too. I’m yet to try.
TS: Some people might harbour the view that poetry is quite pretentious. Who do you think that poetry should be for?
RA: For everyone, definitely. I’m very against the whole idea of having ‘gatekeepers’ of poetry, or any art really. When I was first writing I put my stuff on a poetry website and someone got in touch saying that they’d re-written it. I thought then, and I still do, that it shouldn’t be about that. Poetry should be the most inclusive space, and there’s no right or wrong – good poetry is like biting into a nice apple, it’s hard to describe. People like policemen have quite specific ways they should do their job, but I don’t think artists should be like that.
TS: As an artist who’s interested in talking, who are some of your favourite talkers?
RA: Travis Alabanza is great – we performed at the same night in Bristol a few weeks ago. Other than that – I quite like Tony Benn. I’ve seen him talk at the Leftfield tent at Glastonbury – he makes politics accessible. I went to the World Economics Forum in Davos a few years ago and I just didn’t understand what anyone was talking about. My sister’s quite good at talking too, and the other day there was a lady in Holland & Barrett giving out samples of Manuka Honey. She talked to me for ages and I enjoyed it as much as Tony Benn or seeing a poet perform on stage.
TS: Finally, what advice would you give to young poets and performers trying to make something of themselves today?
RA: Trust your instincts, and don’t worry too much about what anyone else thinks. When you have an idea, get it down! They’re always fresher and better if you get them down straight away, later in the day they’re never as good.
Photo credit: Julian Ward
Tom Stockley is an artist, organiser, writer, performer and semi-professional moron. He performs variously as punk-poet T.S. IDIOT and “the world’s worst techno wordsmith” MC TEABAG. He writes things like this interview for On The Beat as well as directing his own platform, We Are Uncollective. If you want to (or even if you don’t want to), you can contact him via his website.